Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn) In full on winter conditions

Route: Ben Vorlich and Stùc a' Chròin

Munros: Ben Vorlich (Loch Earn), Stùc a' Chròin

Date walked: 24/03/2013

Time taken: 5 hours

Ascent: 985m

As I work Mon-Fri and every alternate weekend, I am constantly frustrated by our ever changing weather and the demands of family life. Oh selfish me! the guy who gets two days off every twelve, so all of this determines when i can get out onto the hills. Over Christmas i treated myself to an Ice axe and Crampons as i really wanted to get up onto the hills and try to get some stunning winter mountain shots on my DSLR (my other passion). Anyway as my walking buddies are, let's say fair weather hikers!, the thought of going up a mountain in the grip of winter with snow and ice under foot not only horrified them. They thought i had lost my marbles and was intent on having away with myself especially after the recent tragedies on Scottish mountains.
So, i dindn't spend all my hard earned on equipment that was going to lay in the wardrobe.
The weekend weather was ridiculous with extreme wind chill and gusts of sixty plus mph. If im going to do this alone then i need to plan it like a military exercise, i need to know exactly where im going and most of all do not put myself in any danger and limit the risks. If anything happened to me on a hill my missus would be raging, and i wouldn't want to be the subject of her fury in this life or the next. She's a lovely girl really but no iterest in walking up hills whatsoever, "hills are for sheep so they can look down to see where the better grass is" of course they are darling.
After scournig the WH forum reading walk reports and absorbing other more experienced members views on the subject, a hill was required that had no technical issues. A straightforward slog straight up, no gullies to fall into or anything that could jeapordize the mission. The mission being " Make a summit in winter with the use of winter equipment". I chose Ben Vorlich as it is an easy hill by all reports. I also wanted to do a munro that i hadn't allready done and wasn't to far from home, i live in Lennoxtown right at the foot of the the Campsies, my training ground on which i keep myself hill fit. So the only problem which may present itself is going to be what's underfoot, or so i thought.
I set off from Ardvorlich at 7.30am with light flurries of snow and a barely visible hill in front of me.
Farm Track.JPG
No stunning panoramas today

As i headed up the farm track the wind was noticeable but not too bad and it was quite easy going, no deep snow drifts until a bit further up towards the bridge over Allt a'Choire Bhuidhe. I was up to my knees in some places and the going slowed considerably. Upon reaching the bridge i thought it wise to stop here and put on my crampons as i didn't want to be trying to do this in deep snow, bear in mind this is the first time my boots and crampons have met each other seriously. Sitting in the bedroom with them paired up to adjust straps doesn't count. Right! spikes on and lets have a look at my route, im heading for the north side of the hill.

Where exactly is the path?

I set off to the right from the bridge and i'm immediately up to my waist in snow, not a good start. I get up, out and onto firmer ground and set off for the side of the hill. I can really feel the streangth of the wind now and with no clear path to follow, i set myself distant markers / features to aim for. Im making progress but it's slow and it's also a big drain on your energy. You know how fit you are and what your capable of, i also do alot of cycling for stamina building but walking through drifting snow when you'r not used to it is hard going.
Not much to look at up ahead

I keep pushing on and it's as if the wind setting has been turned up a couple of clicks and it is really gusting, or so i think as this is nothing to what awaits me at about 650 meters. I carry on up through the snow which in some places is really easy going but in others im back up to my knees. As you can gather there are no footprints to follow and if there were im sure they would be full of snow pretty quickly. Im now in the process of thinking am i an idiot, should i go on, should i go back and a look up ahead does not do much to convince otherwise.
There's a summit up there somewhere

I now weigh up my options, the visibility is reasonably good and there is no heavy snow expected to create whiteout conditions. I can see where i want to go but the wind is the factor here, it's not going to let up so it's down to how much do i want to do this. I'm not enjoying this anymore it's now become a challenge, and as i think about it as i trudge on, i knew this was going to be a challenge. I want to push myself and gain experience on the hills in all sorts of conditions so lets do this, lets get up there get back down and be proud of my achievement. So i reach the 600 meter mark and the ground is not so steep here but a little further on the climb proper begins. I stop have a breather and a drink, get the gloves off, phone out and get another picture.
The loch is way below me now

And i suddenly notice the wind has dropped off to barely nothing "result" onwards and upwards as the saying goes.
Then it all goes Yee Ha as the wind hits again but now it's gusting and virtually blowing me off my feet. The big noticable difference now is the terrain and conditions underfoot. The snow has been blown from the ground leaving hard ice and it's easier to walk, now's the time draw on my knowledge of how to walk up ice with crampons on. All those nights sitting in front of the computer watching youtube videos of how to kick steps, and now i'm doing it for real. I turned my back to the wind and started going up sideways digging each boot in hard, I'm making steady progress but the wind is now unbelievably strong, i have never experienced anything like this before but i know what i need to do so it's head down and push on. I must be up about 750 meters when i spot two Ptarmigan just up ahead, i stopped and immedietly sprung into photographer mode. I found a large rock to stash my gloves and bag under and tried to get a pic on my big camera, no chance as they just dissapeared. Both were not in full winter plumage but were speckled and staying as close to the ground as they could. I probably disturbed them from were they were hiding from the wind.
A quick pic and on we go

I still had my liner gloves on but when i retrieved my sealskins they had gone quite hard and frozen. Hands in, they'll soon warm up. From here on it was a case of kick steps,take a breather, curse the wind and try to keep my balance all the way until i looked up and there it was in front of me, like an imovable treasure that i longed to touch, the wave of relief that i had made it was fantastic, and i could have wept which would have been a bad idea as my eyes would have frozen shut, then i really would be in trouble. How do you get out of that situation. As it was i already had frozen eyebrows and all i wanted to do was taste warm tomato soup, eat my topic and get the hell out of here.

I got the soup out " ya beauty " but my little primus flask just was'nt up to the job and the soup is stone cold "Gazpacho" one cup is enough. My banana could have been used as a hammer and my topic, well i was just hoping my teeth could handle it.
The Holy Grail

I made it

Ah! Bonnie Scotland

The formations of the ice would have looked great on a better day

:clap: :clap: :clap:
After my personal battle with the topic bar, it's on with the gear and down i go, the wind is still ferocious and i have to be even more careful. I can't let it all go pear shaped at this stage so it's easy does it all the way down until the wind is not so bad.
There is a flask of hot water in my car down there. It's all i can think about

I dont consider myself a complete novice although today was something new, others may disagree. I set myself a challenge, i risk assessed it and continued to assess those risks throughout the climb. I never really felt like giving up and earlier i said i wasn't enjoying the walk and i was'nt. It was difficult but as i sit here and write about my experience and this is my first post after eleven Munros, i'm proud of myself and my achievement. I'll go on and set myself new challenges which will probably not happen for a while because if my missus reads this she will hide my walking boots.
I was up there, now for that mug of coffee

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Comments: 9


Activity: Mountain Walker
Place: Knoydart

Munros: 81
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Trips: 1
Ascent: 985m
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Last visited: May 09, 2021
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